Ralph Fiennes loves Russia, and the feeling seems to be mostly mutual. But on the subject of James Bond, there is, shall we say, some polite disagreement. When the 53-year-old actor, who plays Bond’s MI6 handler M, arrived in Moscow for the Spectre promotional tour last year, he was constantly told the new films were just too downbeat for the famously blithe and breezy Russian temperament.
“I think the British audience likes Bond being brought into a more serious real world,” Fiennes says, looking intently at a glass of water on the table in front of him. “So they should nod to all those well-known Bond tropes and icons that we want, but with an undertone of gravitas.”
But in Russia – well, they seem to prefer the old Roger Moore era. Fiennes recalls slipping off to St Petersburg to meet an old friend after completing his promotional duties on Spectre, who immediately told him he “hated” the film. “It was categorical,” he marvels – then looks up, his voice gliding into a Russian accent. “I hated thees! So serious! Please! Why? Vere are the jokes?”
Later, back in Moscow, another friend just shrugged when asked for feedback, and despairingly reminded him Bond was supposed to be “a show”.
Nevertheless, he suspects the next instalment – AKA Bond 25, the title, release date and star of which remain tantalisingly unconfirmed– will take a lighter, and therefore presumably more Russian-friendly, approach.
“Well I think if you’re the next director of Bond, you’re going to not want to go down the tone and argument of what Sam [Mendes] has put into the films,” he says, though is quick to stress he’s “heard nothing”. “Questions of British nationhood, and whether Bond is a dinosaur, all that. So I would guess if you’re coming to do the next Bond, you’d want to take it somewhere radically different, I think.”
We’re in a quiet corner of a cosy restaurant in Kensington, West London. Fiennes is as impeccably dressed as you’d hope, in a tailored blue jacket, crisp shirt, and a frankly spectacular pair of high-waisted khaki trousers he reveals he had specially made as a replica of the ones he wore in The English Patient 20 years ago.